ISTANBUL – Conducting trade with Turkey often also involves politics. And that counts even more for agricultural trade, as became apparent during the trade mission to Turkey of the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte this week. For the agricultural businessmen who were travelling with the mission, import taxes are still a problem to overcome.
It is busy at the Dutch consulate in Istanbul. Prime Minister Rutte and the new Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Aid, Lilianne Ploumen, are visiting, and along with them some sixty Dutch business men and women. Besides business representatives from the branches of medical technology, traffic safety and clean technology, agricultural companies also played an important role in the mission. One of the participants is a huge veal meat producer, the Van Drie Group.
During the meeting at the consulate several business deals are signed, closely observed by PM Rutte and Minister Ploumen. During those ceremonies Henny Swinkels, Director Corporate Affairs of Van Drie Group, has time for an interview. He is not signing any contracts on this trip, nor did he intend to. He is there purely to establish contact and to lobby for a more free meat trade between Turkey and the Netherlands. Swinkels: ‘I often join such missions, because I see it as an important investment in the future of Van Drie Group.’
Protect own production
Swinkels would love to conquer the Turkish market with his veal meat, but for now the circumstances don’t allow it. Swinkels: ‘The import tax on veal meat is 100%. That’s clear, isn’t it? But we would love to export to Turkey, a country where veal meat is considered a delicacy that is served on special occasions. There are 75 million people in this country, 75 million meat eaters; of course that’s an interesting market.’
How big the demand in Turkey is for veal meat of high quality, he experienced when he ordered a veal schnitzel during one of the dinners this week. The quality was nothing special to write home about. Swinkels: ‘It would be great if this 100% tax could be abolished, or at least lowered. We talked about that during a meeting with Deputy MP Babacan. He said he is proud that a company like ours wants to enter the Turkish market, but that he also has to protect Turkey’s own production. Understandable, but on the other hand: Turkey doesn’t produce enough so they eventually will have to get the meat elsewhere to meet the demand.’
That’s clearly a political matter, in which the company cannot directly get involved. That’s why, says Swinkels, it is so important that during this trade mission the government and the businesses cooperate. ‘Of course, the government doesn’t do business, but it does have the job of facilitating trade as well as possible. And that’s exactly what’s being done during this trip. In the meantime, the businesses can do their networking.’
Despite the obstacles on several points, agricultural trade between the Netherlands and Turkey is growing. According to figures from the Dutch Agriculture Ministry, in 2011 the Netherlands exported meat and meat by-products worth €8.415.000 to Turkey, up from €914.000 in 2009. In other fields of agriculture too there is growth: dairy exports rose in the same period from €8.879.000 to €1.4766.000. Total exports in agriculture rose between 2009 and 2011 from €258.161.000 to 375.369.000. Imports from Turkey shouldn’t be disregarded either: they grew in the same period from €285.059.000 to €325.654.000, mainly in the trade in fruits, nuts and sugar.
Trade and aid
During the press conference Minister of Foreign Trade Lilianne Ploumen pointed out that there are also possibilities for Dutch companies in the field of high technology agriculture. ‘There is work being done to start great cooperative ventures that can make production go up’, she said. Asked for concrete results, Ploumen said it’s not the first aim of such a mission to sign as many business deals as possible: ‘As a Minister of Foreign Trade I have to be abroad more than I am in the Netherlands, and represent the Netherlands as well as possible for Dutch companies. A mission like this is part of that. Besides which, the new approach of the Ministry will be: combine aid and trade. Yes, even when it comes to Turkey. Turkey exports hazelnuts to the Netherlands, but there is still a lot of child labour in that industry. We want to halt that in cooperation with the Turkish government and the international union, the ILO.’
Whether the import taxes will be abolished or not, it’s too early to say. But Henny Swinkels of Van Drie Group is optimistic, and after a bit of pressure he dares to predict that he can start conquering the Turkish market in 2013. Swinkels: ‘No promises have been made, but I sense it in every meeting we have had. The demand is enormous, the Turkish government can’t deny that much longer. Besides, they are looking for foreign investors.’
Who knows, during the next trade mission he might be the one signing a contract and getting overwhelming applause from those present in Istanbul.